Special Rapporteur on the right to food presents report on Indonesia Mission to Human Rights Council

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Ms Hilal Elver visited Indonesia between 9 and 18 April 2018. During her visit, she travelled to various provinces of the island state and met with government representatives, agencies and civil society actors. Human rights defenders and victims from Papua met with the special rapporteur in the Province of Maluku. On 18 April 2018, Ms Hilal Elver gave a press conference in which she shared preliminary observation and seven recommendations. The special rapporteur has presented her report on the official visit to Indonesia to the Human Rights Council during its 40th session. Several observations refer to the right to food situation in West Papua or have a strong relevance in the context of West Papua.

The Special Rapporteur noted in her report that the majority of  Indonesia‘s impoverished populations “reside in the rural areas of Eastern Indonesia, where the poverty rate is far higher than the rest of the country. […] in 2017, the poverty rates were highest in the provinces of Papua (27.8 per cent) [and] Papua Barat (23.1 per cent) […], despite an overall drop in the nation’s relative poverty” (p. 4)

She expressed concerns over the Indonesian Government which appears to prioritize food security through legal provisions and the policy framework, while leaving aside other important aspects of the right to food. Food security constitutes an important precondition for the enjoyment of the right to food, but is not equivalent to the right to food, which “requires the recognition and participation of rights holders in decision-making processes. Various social protection schemes should also aim to protect this right for the most vulnerable populations. In this regard, there is a need to integrate a human rights-based approach to the Government’s legal and policy framework so that the right to food may be realized by all” (p. 9)


Ms Hilal Elver assessed the right to food situation in Indonesia in terms of food availability, accessibility, adequacy and sustainability.  The “availability of food refers not just to a quantitative amount that will prevent hunger, but also to a food supply that is culturally sensitive. […] Available foods must be sensitive to traditions and cultural values, while also satisfying dietary needs. Some populations are accustomed to alternative staple foods, such as sagu, rather than those that the Government subsidizes. Government policies to promote food production should consider cultural preferences, so as not to create dissatisfaction or disrupt cultural identities” (p. 10). In the context of Indonesia, the Special Rapporteur’s observation particularly applies to the situation in parts of Maluku and the lowland areas of West Papua, where the major staple food is sago, not rice.

The accessibility to food is particularly a problem in remote and underdeveloped areas of Indonesia with lack of infrastructure and health facilities. The special rapporteur mentioned the measles Outbreak in the Asmath Regency of Papua Province as an example: “Between September 2017 and early 2018, for example, a measles outbreak in the Asmat District in Papua resulted in the death of 72 children – 66 due to measles and 6 due to malnutrition. The outbreak, which infected as many as 651 patients, 223 of whom were children also diagnosed with malnutrition, exposed the extent of chronic food insecurity in the area due to a lack of access to food and medical intervention.” (p. 10f). “The Special Rapporteur believes that the reported deaths of 72 children in Papua from preventable disease and malnutrition, as discussed briefly above, represent the Government’s failure to meet its obligation to fulfil the right to food, especially for children and vulnerable populations. The Special Rapporteur recently learned that the Government has sent a team of health-care workers and nutritionists to the region to prevent similar atrocities and to avoid future violations of the right to food and to life” (p. 14)

The report describes that indigenous peoples in Indonesia are amongst the most vulnerable groups in the enjoyment of the right to food, together with women and children. In this regard the Special Rapporteur acknowledged that Indonesia’s constitution and national legislation recognizes some of the rights of indigenous peoples, such as the right to ancestral lands as well as the customary law of indigenous people to utilize coastal resource areas and small island waters. However, in practice many indigenous communities such as the Malind tribe in Merauke, Papua Province, continue to “face disproportionate barriers to accessing land. The situation of the Malind people in Papua is concerning. Their land, forest and wetlands, especially sagu trees (a main staple food), are being destroyed by an agricultural project to meet the food needs of Indonesia” (p. 12)

The right to land is an integral requirement for the provision of food access and availability, especially for indigenous peoples or farmers growing their own food or using their land for income-generating purposes. “Any future concession on land or in water, the Government should ensure that the rights of the affected communities are fully respected. Those affected should be adequately informed of the anticipated impacts in a timely manner, they should be provided with opportunities to participate in decision-making processes and they should be given adequate remedies if their rights are violated” (p. 16f), so the Special Rapporteur. She urged the Indonesian Government to fully respect the rights of communities affected by palm oil and mining concessions.

The report finishes with 19 recommendations to the Indonesian Government. Several recommendations have particular relevance in the context of West Papua and read as follows:

•    Adjust its social protection schemes aimed at protecting vulnerable populations consistent with a human rights-based approach

•    Diversify its current policies, which focus predominantly on rice and other staples, so as to support the production of more diverse and nutritious foods, including fruits and vegetables

•    Take into account the cultural traditions and food preferences of various populations while promoting access to healthy food

•    Take appropriate measures to provide small-holder farmers, fisherfolk indigenous peoples, pastoralists, women and girls with access to and control over land, water and other natural resources necessary to produce their own food to feed themselves or to support their livelihoods

•    Implement a land registration programme to protect local populations against large-scale land acquisitions by companies seeking to log, mine and grow palm oil